When do your own actions break the chain of causation?

Mr Clay went on holiday to Tenerife with his wife, children and his parents. The family had one room and the grandparents another. The rooms were next door to each other on the second storey and both had balconies. One evening, having put the children to bed, Mr Clay joined the other grownups on the grandparents’ balcony for a drink. He shut the sliding balcony door behind him to keep insects out of the bedroom and heard a “click”. It became clear the glass door had locked itself and them on the balcony. They were in no danger and nor were the children. The night was warm. After 30 minutes of trying and failing to attract attention Mr Clay decided to try to cross over to the balcony of the other room. Before doing so he discussed his plan and the risks with his father. Mr Clay was a security/fire officer at an oil refinery and his father had been a truck driver with health and safety responsibilities.

The Judge found they were sensible people not young men on a spree. The balconies were over 3 feet apart but there was a ledge running under each balcony which lessened the gap to 78 cms Unfortunately when he trod on the ledge it gave way and he fell. The ledge was simply a design feature albeit it looked to be part of the balcony and made of the same concrete. He was seriously injured but made a good recovery over time. He brought an action under the Package Tour Regulations.

The Judge found the lock was defective and in breach of local standards. The key issue was whether his action in stepping on to the ledge was so unreasonable as to break the chain of causation created by the door locking. The Trial Judge said it was and the Court of Appeal agreed but with a powerful dissenting judgement by Moylen LJ . So there is lots of good material on both sides for when novus actus interveniens next blips up on the radar.


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